Friday's attacks in Ouagadougou on the French embassy and the country's military HQ left 12 people seriously injured while eight assailants were killed, along with the soldiers. A Mali-based affiliate of al Qaeda claimed responsibility.

Red Cross members stand at the municipal stadium where an emergency medical post was established, after a coordinated assault on the army headquarters and French embassy in the capital Ougadougou, Burkina Faso March 2, 2018.
Red Cross members stand at the municipal stadium where an emergency medical post was established, after a coordinated assault on the army headquarters and French embassy in the capital Ougadougou, Burkina Faso March 2, 2018. (Reuters)

Authorities in Burkina Faso were on Saturday hunting for clues about the masterminds behind Friday's deadly twin attacks on the French embassy and the country's military HQ.

The coordinated attacks in Ouagadougou, which coincided with a meeting of regional anti-terror forces, underlined the struggle the fragile West African nation faces in containing a bloody and growing insurgency.

Eight armed forces personnel were killed, the government said, while a French security source said 12 more were seriously injured. Earlier security sources had reported a higher toll.

A Mali-based affiliate of al Qaeda, Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al Muslimin (JNIM) claimed responsibility for the attacks, according to the Mauritanian news agency Alakhbar.

Alakhbar, citing a recording from the group, reported that the attacks were carried out in response to the killing of one of JNIM's leaders, Mohamed Hacen al Ancari, in a recent raid by French forces.

Two people were arrested near the headquarters, a security source told AFP.

The government said the attack on the military HQ was a suicide car bombing and that the G5 Sahel regional anti-terrorism force may have been the target.

"The vehicle was packed with explosives" and caused "huge damage", Security Minister Clement Sawadogo said.

Officials from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger were at the meeting, representing the nations who have launched a joint military force to combat terrorists on the southern rim of the Sahara.

President Roch Marc Christian Kabore said in a statement: "Our country was once again the target of dark forces."

Terror in broad daylight

The violence began mid-morning when heavy gunfire broke out in the centre of the Burkinabe capital.

Witnesses said five armed men got out of a car and opened fire on passersby before heading towards the French embassy.

The embassy attackers were armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles and were "dressed in civilian clothes" with their faces uncovered, witnessed said.

At the same time, the bomb went off near the headquarters of the Burkinabe armed forces and the French cultural centre, about a kilometre (half a mile) from the site of the first attack, other witnesses said.

A gunman who attacked the military HQ was wearing the uniform of the national army, according to a security source.

Four attackers were shot outside the French embassy and another four at the military HQ, another security source told AFP.

Paul Koalaga, a security consultant in Burkina Faso, said the attacks involved a "crescendo."

"After soft targets, such as hotels and restaurants, this attack aimed at hard targets, strong symbols," he said, adding there appeared to be "a problem at the intelligence level."

The Ouagadougou prosecutor's office appealed for witnesses "to assist in the search and identification of accomplices, hosts and any possible facilitators" of the events.

Condolences and condemnation

The G5 meeting was supposed to have been held at the headquarters but had been moved to another room, Sawadogo said.

"Perhaps it was the target. We do not know at the moment. In any case the room was literally destroyed by the explosion," the minister added.

The G5 Sahel's completed force will be composed of 5,000 troops and aims to be fully operational by the end of the month.

It has already carried out operations against terrorists with help from the French army.

Mahamadou Issoufou, Niger's president and the current chair of the group, said Friday's attacks "will only strengthen the resolve of the G5-Sahel and its allies in the fight against terrorism".

French President Emmanuel Macron offered his condolences, Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is on a visit to neighbouring Mali, "strongly condemned" the attack while UN chief Antonio Guterres called for an "urgent and concerted effort" to improve stability in the Sahel.

The insurgency in the region has caused thousands of deaths, prompted tens of thousands to flee their homes and dealt crippling blows to economies that are already among the poorest in the world.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies